A gavel sits on a desk inside the Court of Appeals at the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which celebrated its official opening on Monday Jan. 14, 2013, in Denver. 
Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP

On immigration, Trump says he wants to ‘get rid of judges’


Donald Trump doesn’t have an immigration policy, per se. though the president does have a wish list of measures he’d like to see implemented. During a brief event in the Oval Office yesterday, the Republican sketched out his vision in unscripted comments:

“[W]hat we have to do is Congress has to meet quickly and make a deal. I could do it in 45 minutes. We need to get rid of chain migration. We need to get rid of catch and release and visa lottery. And we have to do something about asylum. And to be honest with you, you have to get rid of judges.”

Not surprisingly, much of this was odd. Trump has not, for example, initiated negotiations with lawmakers over immigration policy, so it’s not at all clear what kind of possible “deal” he was referring to. On other priorities, the president has often been confused about their meaning, and he’s generally been reluctant to reach bipartisan compromises.

But it was that moment of candor – he believes the United States needs to “get rid of judges” – that stood out.

Trump didn’t go into a lot of detail, but in context, he almost certainly wasn’t referring to sitting jurists serving lifetime positions on the federal judiciary. Rather, I’m reasonably sure the president was referring to immigration judges – whom he apparently wants to fire.

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted in response, “This is akin to declaring that we must end due process for asylum seekers, and with it, our international humanitarian commitments on this front.”

That’s absolutely right, though I’d add one related thought: the Trump administration’s position had long been that we need more immigration judges, not fewer, which meant the president yesterday denounced his own team’s agenda.

As regular readers may recall, the Trump White House called on Congress to approve funding for hundreds of additional immigration judges in order to expedite the legal process at the U.S./Mexico border.

The president, apparently unsure what immigration judges are, later reversed course and expressed bewilderment that “they” – he didn’t say who – want more immigration judges, which Trump said would invite “graft” and corruption.

Current immigration judges were reportedly “shocked” and “dismayed” by the president’s criticisms, which was understandable, since his rebukes were nonsensical.

Trump has nevertheless pressed forward, questioning why we even have immigration judges and wondering about the need for due process.

Whether the president understands this or not, immigration judges are not part of the judiciary – they’re part of the Justice Department; they are appointed by the attorney general; and unlike Article III judges, they’re not confirmed by the Senate.

“Getting rid of” of them would both wreak havoc on the existing system and would undermine due process. If Trump wants to make the case that it’s a course worth pursuing anyway, I’m eager to hear the argument.